As the omicron wave gained momentum, one local leader noticed a KN95 mask shortage at San Francisco public schools and decided to see what she could do to solve the problem. She worked the phones and, in seven days, Kate Bueler, the development director for the Jamestown Community Center, secured 61,000 KN95 masks for staff and students of local San Francisco schools.
It wasn’t all that difficult, she said.
“I called on these corporations, and they showed up very quickly,” said Bueler. “Anyone who’s an elected official or public servant could have done this. My question is: Why didn’t they?”
Bueler’s efforts could not have come at a more opportune time.
At Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, principal Claudia DeLarios Moran reported it wasn’t until last Thursday that the school received a “very large supply” of masks from the school district. Each of the students was supplied with one cloth mask and one surgical mask the next day. Researchers say layering the two masks can be as effective as an N95 mask.
But the situation was far from resolved, even though Bueler showed up last week with 340 KN95s.
“We are going to need more than what we have been given. So we are going to need to continue to order masks from our school budget in order to keep our students safe,” said Moran.
Like all schools, students will need more as KN95 masks are designed for single use.
“It’s a need,” said Moran. Every staff member at Buena Vista Horace Mann has given students six of the 10 N95 masks they received from the district — a woefully inadequate number.
Bueler first began gathering KN95 masks for Jamestown last Tuesday, with the goal of caring for four local schools: James Lick Middle School, Buena Vista Horace Mann, César Chávez Elementary School and Longfellow Elementary School. Some of her donations came from organizations such as Unity Software Inc. and D.A. International Group. Others came from private individuals in the community, following a series of posts on Bueler’s Instagram.
“Corporations all over this city are sitting on masks,” said Bueler. “They postponed their openings that were supposed to happen in January.” Fortunately, when Bueler contacted these organizations, many were more than willing to donate them. She even managed to get 4,000 masks from Square, Inc. within 24 hours.
Bueler’s plans now go much further than the four original schools. She presently has 12 sites on her delivery list. “The goal is to ensure every kid and staff member feels valued and loved and taken care of during a pandemic,” she said.
Bueler’s pre-existing network of contacts has made her task easier. Her undergraduate years at University of San Francisco have been particularly beneficial. “All the USF educators started sharing information, and then they’re all coming to me,” she said.
The more schools Bueler contacts, the more her network continues to grow. “At this point, I’m working with whoever I get ahold of on the site. And so, that could be a school counselor or a teacher. And that’s how the network works. And then I asked them, ‘How many do you need for the students’ or ‘how many are needed for staff?’ and then they’re kind of the connector.”
“Kate’s amazing,” said a high-school counselor and USF graduate, who dropped by Bueler’s house yesterday afternoon to pick up 400 masks. “She’s taking all this on for the entire district when there’s a team of people at the district who should be doing this work. What are they doing with their time? They’re being paid a salary to do all this work. It’s obscene.”
She added, “The majority of my kids live in multi-generational households. They do not want to pass on covid to the family because they went to school. And they shouldn’t have to choose between school and safety.”
Bueler spent much of yesterday afternoon delivering masks around the city. But as her efforts go on, her network has continued to expand, with more and more school sites reaching out to her for masks.
At 5 p.m., a seventh-grade faculty member received 1,200 KN95 masks from Bueler.
“We have not received any masks from the district,” he said. “We have some old cloth masks for students, and that is it.”